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December 23, 2013 8:00 AM The Problem with Applying for Academic Jobs: Not Enough Time

By Daniel Luzer

There are a lot of problems with trying to obtain an academic job. College Guide has written before about the basic supply and demand problem—universities produce far more PhDs than there are tenure-track jobs available for them—but a related problem is that real candidates for these jobs are often really poorly treated in the job application process. Really poorly treated.

According to an article at Inside Higher Ed:

Graduate students have been complaining about the practice of search committees that conduct interviews at disciplinary meetings telling them just two weeks before the gatherings whether they have an interview. For graduate students with limited funds (in other words, for most of them), they are forced to gamble on airfare, hotel and maybe an interview wardrobe without knowing if they will need to be at the meeting.

And it’s even worse in some places.

How about less than a week? That’s the question raised by an email sent out by a search committee at the University of California at Riverside about a tenure-track job in American literature before 1900.
Yes, a tenure-track job in literature at a research university — the kind of job many English grad students dream about. Hundreds applied, and 12 or so lucky candidates will be interviewed at the Modern Language Association meeting, which starts January 9, in Chicago. But if they thought they would find out before, say Christmas, they were wrong.

UC Riverside will apparently be letting candidates know by January 3 if they’re getting an interview, an interview for which they’d need to show up a week later.

How about if you just, like, fly across the country to meet with us on Thursday? How desperate are you?

Granted, the department will be conducting the interviews at the MLA meeting, and it’s true that a lot of English graduate students would likely be there anyway. It’s not like the search committee is making everyone fly out to Riverside.

But still, a week? That’s a very short time for the potential candidates to make decisions, and the search committee’s behavior seems to indicate a very poor understanding of the way American travel and human resources normally works.

Or maybe the department just doesn’t care.

As adjunct professor Rebecca Schuman wrote about the one-week plan on her blog:

The Overlords of the UC-Riverside English department have decided that anyone they deem worthy will, of course, already be attending MLA, either to give several important papers, or to be interviewed by several other institutions who have the common fucking human decency to notify their candidates more than three days in advance. This is a move that is both elitist and out of touch. Because of the hyper-competitive market and huge glut of applicants for every job, nowadays many, many Ph.D.s and A.B.D.s attend MLA to go on a single, solitary, pathetic interview — because, they’re told, ‘all it takes is one,’ after all.”

Then again, the move certainly isn’t going to hurt the UC-Riverside English department. Indeed, it might be a good way to help simplify the selection process.

“Oh, not going to be at the MLA meeting. Well, never mind then. Good luck in your search.”

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

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